My parents were both the children of immigrants, grew up poor, worked hard, survived the depression, a plague, a World War, and ended up living the upper-middle-class American dream. Since they emerged from poverty and a ravaged world, they had incredible appreciation for how their lives turned out. And since they knew how bad things could get, they were conservative with their money, knew the value of having cash in the bank and as little debt as possible, and lived their lives with a great sense of fiscal responsibility and patriotism. These are hallmarks of the Depression-era generation.
Fast forward a few generations and we have a society with an entirely new attitude. Much of America has been raised with some level of affluence – whether or not their parents could really afford it. The idea of security through savings was replaced with a bizarre concept of debt financing and a sense of entitlement. Over the last thirty years we ripped up our farms and replaced them with massive big box retailers where we could go to buy all kinds of “stuff”. And our desire to own lots and lots of stuff necessitated an entirely new approach to manufacturing. We closed down our American factories and eliminated an entire class of workers, and shipped production overseas, where our stuff could be made for less – because we no longer wanted to own a few good things, instead we needed closet loads of cheap stuff. Our homes were not large enough to hold all our stuff, so we bought larger homes we could not afford.
And now the bill for all this stuff has actually come due, and since we cannot afford the tab our lifestyles are being repossessed. Give back the houses, the cars; all the stuff we can’t pay for. The people that make all this stuff are also suffering. They geared up to provide for our consumptive lifestyles; they provided the silly and cheap financing that kept us hooked on buying stuff; and now like crack dealers that have lost their customers they must find a new way to stay afloat.
Kicking our “stuff addiction” is difficult, and everyone is in pain right now. But my guess is that we will emerge from the other side clean and healthy. Hopefully we will have a new Depression-Era generation, financially smarter, leaner, and more focused than the stuff-addicted group. We will value the good stuff as opposed to more stuff. We won’t spend more than we make. We will invest in our infrastructure as opposed to complicated Ponzi schemes run by Weasels trying to consume the most stuff. We will buy houses to live in as opposed to buying them as real estate investments. The little things that are actually really big things will suddenly become our focus. Is our food supply safe? Do we have enough water and clean air to live? Do we provide opportunity for everyone? As a society do we live within the world community as opposed to trying to dominate it so we can get more stuff?
And if the new Depression-Era generation is as smart and resolute as the last one, we will create a better place with less stuff, but the stuff we do have will be really incredible.